Hello Kitty, Goodbye Dignity

“Is it the Pinot Noir talking or is that Hello Kitty?” I said to no one in particular as I opened a gift containing a pair of pajama bottoms bearing the familiar feline.

Each November my mother asks what I’d like for Christmas. What I really want are gifts of convenience—someone to come in and upload two years worth of photos from my phone, weed through them, order prints and then put them in a nice album chronologically.

I’d also like someone to find me a flattering pair of jeans, if such a thing even exists. Or maybe my wish list contains a year’s supply of dental floss so each week after I grocery shop I don’t have to hear my husband ask, “Did you remember the dental floss?”

But I don’t want to put my mother out, so this year I said, ”I’d like a tube of Lip Saver from Aveda.” (For those who haven’t tried it, think Chap Stick to the tenth power.)

So imagine my surprise when on Christmas afternoon I found myself the recipient of some Hello Kitty pajama bottoms. Yes, it is an odd gift for a 41-year-old woman, especially when you consider there isn’t even the nostalgia factor as I was already driving by the time the feline phenom clawed her way into America’s hearts.

But I’m trying to parent by example and accept gifts graciously in the hope that the next time my sons receive khaki pants from their uncle they won’t reel back in horror as if he just presented them with a basket full of text books or worse yet—their personal kryptonite—soap. Which is why I simply said, “Wow thanks!” though even at first glance I could tell they’d fit like pair of fleece tourniquets capable of accelerating one’s core body temperature to that of a rotisserie chicken’s.

“I’m sorry, I was at the mall and I could see the Aveda store but it was two flights up—I just couldn’t make it,” my mom explained.

Now, ok, she has bad knees, I don’t blame her, however, I know the woman had to traverse a football stadium-sized Kohl’s to find these unusual pajama pants so what gives?

“But aren’t they the cutest?” she asked hopefully.

Now before you suggest that I begin looking at assisted living facilities for my mom, let me assure you, this is no one-off.

There were the sweatpants of Christmas 1982. I’d asked for a navy blue pair to wear to gym and what did I get? Tomato red.

“Were they out of blue?” I’d asked my mom.

“Now, if I’d gotten you what you asked for then you wouldn’t be surprised!” she retorted.

Surprised? As a super-tall, uncoordinated middle schooler getting hit repeatedly with a dodgeball had already filled my life with plenty of excitement. Further surprises were unnecessary. Now I’d have to bob and weave in flaming red sweats? They might as well have come with a matching t-shirt with a bull’s eye on the back.

Later, as a teen hoping for a new bicycle, I received an enormous set of Jordache luggage one Christmas. (Betcha didn’t know such a thing even existed.) I searched every zippered compartment, every elasticized pouch searching for a plane ticket, a train ticket, even a movie ticket, something to make this gift more exciting but all I unearthed was a disclaimer letting me know that in case I’d been fooled what I was looking at was not exactly genuine leather. (I believe my mother still uses the carry-on as a coupon caddy.)

Then a few years ago I asked for one of those word-of the day desktop calendars. Years prior when I’d had long commute to just outside the Princeton area, I really enjoyed catching the word of the day on WXPN. I’d looked forward to that roller coaster of emotions that accompanied it: the thrill at your own genius, “Yeah, that’s right, I know what insipid means!” The waves of shame when you realize you’d spent decades mistakenly thinking peruse meant “to skim” or the joyful revelation when you finally find out what piquant means.

But did I get that calendar?

“I’m sorry I guess I waited ‘til the last minute and all they had left was horses and Dilbert,” my mom explained, “so I got nothing. But look, your father got this wall calendar of national parks in the mail from a bank—do you want this?”

I turned it down because what I also had liked about the desktop calendar was that when the day was done, you could use the reverse side to jot down short lists. Sometimes my husband would even use them to leave me thoughtful notes around the house that went a little something like this: “We’re out of garbage bags!” “Something’s wrong with the downstairs toilet!” and the recurring “Buy more dental floss!”  (Sometimes I think that man is secretly crafting an entire set of lawn furniture made exclusively of floss. “It’s the new wicker,” he’ll say when he finally presents me with shiny white chaise lounges and a settee 142 Oral B Glides later.)

My mom is an amazing woman with a great sense of humor who does kind and generous things for me every day of the year. I don’t need anything special on Christmas or any other holiday. But I’d like to think that maybe these presents are part of a long, elaborate prank she’ll let me in on one of these years and the hearty laugh we’ll share at her decades-long gag will be the best gift of all.

In the meantime, could I re-gift these ridiculously furry pants? Possibly. But to whom? As snug as they are, they’d still be swimming on the 7-year-old Hello Kitty fan next door. And let’s face it, they’re hardly flattering (see attached photo.) Then another idea hits me. I could box them up for a friend with a card that reads: “Think of these as free, non-prescription birth control. Happy New Year! And you’re welcome!”

But no, I’m keeping my cartoon cats and putting them to work for me. Now when I’d like my children to get their pajamas on, I simply say “Ok, fellas, it’s Hello Kitty time!” and they giggle and get down to business.

I’m also using them as blackmail, as in “If you don’t go upstairs and brush your teeth right now, I’m walking you to the bus stop in the Hello Kitty pajamas.”

“Ok, ok, I’m going,” my 10 year old says. “But just so you know, we’re out of floss again.”

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Natalie R. Krauser McCarthy January 27, 2013 at 07:57 PM
I am laughing so hard right now. Thank you! I too have a mom who is 99% on with gifts - dinner out, babysitting, good movie/book/music.. but some times the things I'll pull out of a bag (she has decided she's too old to wrap) leave me scratching my head. Then again, she still fills up my advent calendar every year, so you know she has WAAAY too many items needing to find homes..
Deirdre Gelinne January 28, 2013 at 12:38 AM
Very funny! Maybe your mom just has gift fatigue, like mine ... after so many years of buying presents for a large family, she just wants to get it over with, and she figures that a present is a present ... it doesn't really matter what it is.
Elizabeth Alterman January 31, 2013 at 03:46 AM
Thanks, Natalie and Deidre, I know I'm probably just a few years away from giving bubble gum and scented air-freshener trees as gifts ... can I at least blame genetics?
Natalie R. Krauser McCarthy February 05, 2013 at 03:22 PM
I received a turkey shaped air freshener for my car for Thanksgiving this year.. yes, my mom gives gifts for ALL holidays. it's actually pretty cute - has a scented oil inside, but god help me if get a bunny one at Easter. :-)


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